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Delivering a baby seems so easy on TV sitcoms: A woman announces she's in labor, rushes to the hospital (joking all the way), and pops out a perfect baby. In real life, however, deliveries don't follow a script. Giving birth can be anything from a practically spontaneous event to a medical emergency.
Unless you're having a planned C-section, there's no way of knowing how your delivery will unfold. That's why it's good to familiarize yourself with various possibilities. To help you do this, we asked three women to share their stories, and we also got tips and insights from Tracy W. Gaudet, M.D., executive director of integrative medicine at the Duke University School of Medicine and author of Body, Soul, and Baby (Bantam). You can't script your baby's birth, but you can prepare yourself for some of the plot twists that might unfold.
1. Unintended Natural Birth
Mom: Jeanne Reinke, 37, Slingerlands, N.Y.
Baby: Ellie, born March 4, 2007 (Reinke's third child)
The details: When her contractions started, Reinke and her husband headed to the hospital, but after three hours of false labor (contractions that don't cause the cervix to open significantly), she was sent home, where she labored for about five hours. When her contractions were three to five minutes apart, the couple set out for the hospital again. During the 20-minute drive, her contractions sped up even more.
Throughout her pregnancy, Reinke assumed she'd have an epidural, as she had with each of her two previous deliveries. However, by the time she made it to the hospital, it was too late for an epidural. "They barely had time to find a vein and get an IV into me for fluids," she recalls. Her contractions were coming every minute and were extremely intense: "All my body wanted to do was start pushing." Reinke's membranes hadn't ruptured yet, so her doctor did the honors. "I heard, 'The hook, please,' and I knew I was destined not to have an epidural this time," Reinke says. "I felt my water break, three minutes of pushing, and Ellie was born."
What she'd do differently: "Go to the hospital sooner!"
Dr. Gaudet's tips if you want a natural birth:
1. Find a doctor or certified nurse midwife who encourages you to be involved in medical decisions during pregnancy and childbirth and who is willing to help you try laboring in different positions, such as sitting on an exercise ball.
2. Take Bradley Method classes or another childbirth education course that values unmedicated vaginal delivery and whose instructors are committed to teaching you and your partner how to be actively involved in your labor and delivery.
3. Exercise during pregnancy so you'll have stamina for labor.
4. In addition to your partner, have a doula attend your labor.
5. Walk around during labor.